Have you ever heard of the Doctrines of Grace? This is a common phrase used to describe the Doctrine of election and the other key doctrines that support it and flow from it. Sometimes people call it ‘Calvinism’. This is not because French theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) invented them or was the first to discuss them, but it bears his namesake because he was a great organizer and helped bring together the various biblical truths into an understandable system. Sometimes it is just called ‘Reformed Theology,’ since it was a doctrine retrieved and cherished by the 16th century Protestant Reformers. Whatever name it goes by, it is the truth of Scripture that God saves sinners. It is his great work and we add nothing to it. I will briefly summarize the main points:
The Supremacy and Sovereignty of God. God is the Supreme and primary being. It’s all about him. All things exist for his good pleasure and to accomplish his purposes. God is sovereign over all things. Nothing comes to pass without his say so. He has a plan for all things, and everything that does happen, even the choices of man, are according to his unchanging counsel and decree, which he made before the foundation of the earth. (This is the basis for what follows later. We first must establish the sovereignty of God.)
The Extent of the Effect of Sin on Man. The fall of man into sin corrupts every aspect of mankind. We are not merely sick and weak spiritually, needing a little help; we are dead in sin, unresponsive, blind, enslaved to evil. Sin has put us at war with God and as such, the human heart is unwilling and incapable of voluntarily submitting to God. No one seeks God or responds to God on his own.
The Grace of The Father’s Election to Salvation. Before the foundation of the world, and according to his own counsel and will and not due to any foreseen faith or merit, God the Father lovingly chose some from every tribe, tongue, and nation out of the whole of fallen humanity, whom he would save through Jesus Christ, so that he might make known to them the riches of his glory and grace. Those whom he has not elected to salvation, he has chosen to leave in their fallen state to face his just wrath.
The Grace of The Son’s Atoning Death for the Elect. God the Son was given these people from the Father, and it is for them specifically and effectually that he was to give his life for. In this way he did not just make salvation possible for all, but certain for all the Father’s elect.
The Grace of The Spirit’s application of Redemption. God the Spirit was sent to apply all the work of Christ to the elect. He first does the work of regeneration, where he gives a new heart to the elect so that when they hear the gospel message, they are free of the enslaving power of sin and are by God’s grace finally able to freely choose to believe the gospel, and they will do so unfailingly.
The Grace of a Faith that Will Result in Salvation. All the Father has chosen, the Son has ransomed, and the Spirit has redeemed will not fall away, but are kept in the faith by the power of God. All who are saved will remain in faith until the end and will be raised on the last day.
These are called the Doctrines of Grace, thus called because they highlight that salvation is entirely by grace. It is God who saves sinners from beginning to end.
I love the Doctrines of God’s Sovereignty and his election to salvation. They are not the product of some theologians’ imaginations; rather, God has revealed his work in Scripture so we can have joy. These doctrines, properly understood, bring much glory to God and great comfort to saints. They invite us to peek behind the curtain and peer into the deep things of God. He reveals a gospel more potent and powerful than we ever could have imagined.
- The Doctrines of Grace will change the way you think about God for the better
Perhaps more than any other set of doctrines, these direct us to the supremacy of God in all things. They exalt him and draw special attention to his wisdom, knowledge, power, grace, righteousness, love, justice, sovereignty, and holiness. These doctrines have a way of making God ‘bigger’ in our thinking. This is God-centered theology rather than man-centered.
- The Doctrines of Grace will humble you
When Isaiah encountered the living God in his glory in the temple, he said, “Woe is me! I am ruined, a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.” These doctrines demonstrate most clearly just how sinful and unable to please God we are. LIkewise, they demonstrate the wonder of God’s grace in saving sinners. They will strip away any confidence we put in the flesh and will instead instill great gratitude for the grace of God.
- The Doctrines of Grace will help the Bible make more sense to you.
I remember when I first heard about election and didn’t understand it. It sounded so foreign to the gospel I was used to hearing (from Arminian-leaning preaching). But when I began reading the Bible afterwards, I saw that it’s everywhere. God choosing Noah, Abraham, Isaac (not Ishamel), Jacob (not Esau), David (not his brothers), the 12 apostles, Paul. We read verses about election, predestination, and God choosing and ordaining what comes to pass. A reformed understanding sees a definite purpose and plan of God, decreed from eternity, worked out in history, and accomplished completely, to the praise of his glorious grace. A non-reformed view tends to see God doing the best that he can to accomplish his purpose, while the choices of sinful man constantly frustrate it.
- The Doctrines of Grace will nourish your heart and your mind
Reformed theology is intellectually satisfying. Reformed theologians, by and large, are the ones writing weighty systematic theologies in the evangelical world. If you are a deep thinker, you will find much to ponder and enjoy. However, this does not make it cold intellectual theology, but something to fuel your worship and joy. It serves to calm anxiety and bolster faith. It creates confidence in God and his sufficient word.
- The Doctrines of Grace produce assurance and comfort
God’s plans will not be thwarted. He is in complete control. All that comes to pass is according to his will, even the evil he allows is because he has a purpose for it. The implications of this are wonderful for times of hardship or worry. When we undergo trials we are able to see the sovereign hand of God, not with stoic fatalism, but understanding the love and wisdom of God. It also provides us assurance that we cannot lose our salvation.
- The Doctrines of Grace will empower your evangelism with confidence
A Reformed view of election is sometimes seen as an impediment to evangelism. Why share the gospel if the game is rigged and God is going to save or not save anyway? There is much error and arrogance in such thinking. However, it is also not true. Election doesn’t impede evangelism – it empowers it. It allows us to be bold in sharing the gospel, knowing that whether someone accepts the gospel or not is not up to me, my charisma or skill, my intellect or winsome illustrations. I have confidence to go to anyone, knowing that God can save anyone, even one I might think I could never convince. It means that Christians can and should go to ‘closed’ countries, regions, and locations, because God has some elect there who will hear and believe. It means that I can actually pray, ‘Lord, change so-and-so’s heart to receive Christ. Grant him repentance and faith.’
If you’d like to explore some key texts that describe this, I’d recommend reading Ephesians 1-2, Romans 9, and John 6. You can also listen to Part 1 of a seminar dealing with election and God’s sovereignty here.